Tumbleroot has been open to the public at both of its locations in Santa Fe for more than a year now. And, in that time, they’ve built a name for themselves in the local beer industry, established several haunts around town for their crafted spirits, and reshaped the landscape of Santa Fe’s nightlife scene, I would say, for the better.
I recently sat down with co-owner and co-founder Jason Kirkman and head brewer Andy Lane to talk about how far exactly Tumbleroot has sunk its roots into Santa Fe’s craft beer scene.
Tumbleroot has two separate locations in Santa Fe — a brewing/distilling facility and taproom and a taproom/concert hall/event space — one of the only breweries to try such a feat right out of the gate.
It’s been a great learning experience, Kirkman said.
“I think that with our model of doing a full from-scratch brewery and distillery with a full lineup on premise, doing draft and (putting) bottled beer and spirits into distribution, it put a lot on our plate right off the get-go,” he said.
But, they’ve been fortunate with their team. Their quality control has been great, so the learning curve has been mostly concerned with how to improve the business aspect and optimize sales.
With all of the products they were juggling, one of their biggest challenges was batch size and scheduling.
“Scheduling, coordinating, and logistics has been surprisingly challenging, but fun,” Kirkman said.
On the production side and taproom management side, things have gone pretty smoothly, but the whole business hasn’t gone without hitting a few bumps. Even with Kirkman and co-owner/founder/bar manager (Agua Fria location) Jason Fitzpatrick’s experience running taprooms and coordinating events, it was the kitchen that caused the most stress.
“The kitchen was outside of both of our expertise,” Kirkman said.
They’ve had to rely on some tried and tested models. Some of them worked for the space, and some did not.
“We’ve had to go back to the drawing board a couple times, but I think we’ve always had a clear idea of the standards we wanted,” Kirkman said.
Tumbleroot was never trying to be a brewpub with a full-sized kitchen. In Kirkman’s words, they wanted to be a family-friendly gathering space, but soon realized that a space such as that couldn’t exist in Santa Fe without including food, so a kitchen evolved out of necessity.
“We felt like it was our responsibility, when we’re serving alcohol, to serve food,” he said. ”It didn’t have to be a full kitchen, necessarily, but we needed to serve food, and we wanted it to pair well with the quality of our beer and cocktail list. We didn’t just want to have crackers and pickled red hots. We wanted something that would match nicely, and that’s been a challenge.”
I’ll get more into their menu when I speak with front of house operations manager Joseph Haggard in part two of this story next week.
In the year they’ve been open, the most rewarding part of the whole experience for Kirkman has been creating a place that has been a joy to come to work at every day. Which is not to say owning a business is not without its stresses.
“But, it’s necessary stress,” Lane said. “At the end of the day, when I get to drink a beer that I’ve made, and I’m really satisfied with it, that’s the reward, and to share that with my friends and my family, that’s pretty awesome.”
Lane may have just joined the Tumbleroot team last year, but he’s not new to the industry. He started in sales back in Texas, worked with the packaging crew for Santa Fe Brewing, and brewed beers as assistant brewer at Blue Corn. Andy has been paying his dues in silver dollars.
To be able to create beer and spirits that community recognizes, respects, and returns to, that’s what has driven Kirkman and Lane in the brewery/distillery. Those are the roots they’re trying to set deep in the ground.
In one year, Tumbleroot hasn’t expanded or changed their model a whole lot to outside lookers-on. They’ve spent their energy on the growth of the quality of their brand.
“With the decisions we’ve made, from Andy coming onboard, and with Joseph Haggard being involved with the spirits program, helping us with the tasting and the recipes there, to maintaining draft lines, all of the little details have helped us to keep getting better at what we do,” Kirkman said.
I asked Lane how he’s felt Tumbleroot has evolved and changed, from his previous outside perspective to the moment he took the job back in October.
“Just knowing what I know now, and looking back, I think the team we have here is very adaptive, and tries to be adaptive to what the market wants,” he said. ”Everyone here is just basically trying to provide the best experience or product to the customer. And, we ask ourselves constantly, how can we give people what they want right now? And, I feel like that (mission) isn’t something that has changed, but I’ve seen the adaptation process.”
One of the examples of their adaptation was the development of their American light lager, Tumbleroot Blue Ribbon or TBR, a 4.2-percent ABV easy drinker. This is a beer they might never have considered brewing professionally in the past. But, they understand that brewers have to adapt to what the people want, especially in such a tough-sell town as Santa Fe.
Every one of their beers on their multi-tiered beer list has undergone a bit of tweaking in some small way to adapt to everything from changes in local taste to hop availability. What brewery hasn’t at this point? But, go sit down at the bar and ask how their Citra Pale Ale evolved into their Sunset Pale Ale. It’s a story worth sipping on.
“I would say that for a place that’s only been around a year, if you’re already set in your ways … then what are you doing?” Lane said. “You should be constantly trying to improve things. People’s tastes change. Trends change. If that’s all constantly changing, then we’ve got to be constantly tweaking and making beers that reflect that.”
But also, after a year, Tumbleroot is once again seeking to return to some original ideas they had when they opened, like a more seasonal beer menu, referring to beers like their Maibock, Heffeweizen, or their Honey Hibiscus Wheat beer.
“We have not just an intention, but a real schedule for shifting those beers seasonally,” Kirkman said.
So, expect to see plenty of new beers, or new versions of beers that you’ve grown to love.
I asked Kirkman if there was anything they would do differently after having run the business for a year. While he said he enjoys the complexity of the model and the challenges brought about by their ambitions, he said he wonders sometimes if trying to streamline more of the building processes might have been a good idea.
Kirkman shared that building a brewery from the ground up, and completely renovating the Agua Fria space, formerly Club Allegria, maybe didn’t have to be as much work as they made it. During the build, Kirkman and Fitzpatrick took a very do-it-yourself approach to save on costs, but in hindsight, Kirkman said that hiring a few key people to consult for design might have cut out a lot of heart and headache.
“Lesson learned,” he said.
But, that’s in the past now. Looking forward, Tumbleroot isn’t necessarily aiming to smash any distribution records and push into other states. Instead, they’re more concerned with a deepening of their reach into Santa Fe’s craft cocktail and beer scene. Tumbleroot was built to produce, and churning out spirits and beer to spread around to local bars and restaurants is still most certainly the plan. Their growth has been steady. Distribution has been really good, exceeding Kirkman and Co.’s expectations, they said.
“We wanted to go deep into the Santa Fe first,” Kirkman said. ”We asked ourselves, ‘How can we get on the cocktail list (of hotels and bars)? How can we set a price point where all the bars in town are going to carry our product?’ If we can do that, we can have the bulk of our business here in town.”
They’re also not looking to add any new taprooms or build any new facilities at the moment. They’re more concerned with expanding the experience at their current event space. And, by the way, they’re still figuring out exactly how the public wants to use the huge space on Agua Fria Street. But, with so many great shows held during their first year, everything from local bluegrass festivals to tribute shows and metal nights, it seems as though they’ve had a pretty good idea all along.
“We’re trying to provide a better and better event space,” Kirkman said. “People are finding us. We do a lot of fundraisers. We do a lot of community events. And, it’s great acts that really bring people out, like metal shows, salsa nights, acts like Detroit Lightning. People ask us who our customers are, and I say it depends on the night.”
Next up for Tumbleroot on the list that surprised me was canned cocktails. That’s right, Tumbleroot is throwing their very experienced mad hats into the ring. And, while you may have noticed canned cocktails around the local grocery store. If you haven’t, you will now after reading this, and you’ll note the big-name labels on those cans. These guys, however, craft everything from scratch, and will be canning their craft concoctions to go.
Can you see these at your next music on the hill? Your next outdoor music festival? Your next backyard party? Yeah. Tumbleroot is looking at putting fan-favorite cocktails such as their mojito, Paloma, and Moscow mules into cans.
“But, they’ll be made up to our standards,” Kirkman said. “We’ve got the formulas. We’ve got the recipes. It’s just a matter of getting them out there.”
What will the craft canned cocktails be like, exactly? Well, we’ll get more into that in part two of our Tumbleroot story.
On the beer front, they’re still playing with recipes and the like, Kirkman said. They’re still small-batch, and they’re always experimenting.
“I think our Farmhouse is really fun,” Kirkman said. “Because we keep tweaking that recipe. Every batch, we look at what grains we have and sort of riff on that. ‘We have a little bit of this. Let’s use that up.’ And, we design the beer around that, and it goes back to that sort of Farmhouse tradition.”
There are plenty of exciting reasons to come into either location thirsty. Tumbleroot just released an Imperial Blonde in collaboration with down-the-road brewery, Beer Creek. They’ll be working on another strong ale soon, because Kirkman said he has a lot of fun with them. And, there will definitely be more barrel-aged beers, in whiskey, rum, and wine barrels, as well as sours both kettle and barrel. At the time of the interview, they had just released their Hefeweizen, and had just put on their Honey Double IPA, which was tasting pretty good, in my humble opinion. Also, their seasonal lager, of the hoppier variety, satisfied the snobbiest of beer geeks at Second Street’s Crab and Pilsner festival back in June.
“In the next few years we want to see ourselves grow deeper verses spread thin, so more involvement in the community, more service in our community space,” Kirkman said. ”We want a lot more ambassadors in restaurants talking about us, getting people excited about our product, getting onto more cocktail menus. It would be fantastic having more draft accounts in regular places like Fire and Hops, Tonic, Vinaigrette, El Nido, Joseph’s Culinary Pub. We’re super proud to be associated with the local scene.”
Tumbleroot is currently producing around 1000 barrels a year, and just over 1000 proof gallons of Spirits per year. All spirits fermented and distilled in house. Tumbleroot currently self-distributes bottled and draft beer as well as spirits to just under 100 accounts from Taos to Albuquerque.
Current beers: Dry Irish Stout, Pilsner, TBR (American Light Lager), Sunset Pale, New School IPA, Honey Hibiscus Wheat, Honey Double IPA, Hefeweizen, Imperial Blonde, Farmhouse Ale (Saison)
Bottles: Red, Golden, and Brown Barrel aged sour series, SMASH Barleywine Series (Agave, Gin, Rum, and Whisky barrel aged), Honey Double IPA, Tennessee Whisky Barrel Aged Wheatwine
Coming soon: Hazy IPA, NMIPAC IPA, Festbier, Double Brown, Smoked Porter
To keeping it local, cheers!
To be continued …
For more @nmdarksidebc info and #craftbeer news, as well as non-political rants about milkshake IPAs, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro